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Hidalgo County Jury awards $28.3M in verdict against hospital

Posted on Oct 27, 2005

Jury awards $28.3M in verdict against hospital October 27,2005 Brittney Booth The Monitor EDINBURG — An Hidalgo County jury Wednesday awarded a $28.3 million verdict against Rio Grande Regional Hospital, finding that the hospital’s labor and delivery nurses extensively injured a baby girl during her birth. The verdict came after a three-week trial in 139th state District Judge Juan Partida’s court. The award is among the last multimillion-dollar medical malpractice verdicts that a Texas jury will issue against a doctor or hospital. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, a cap on non-economic damages went into effect, limiting to $250,000 the amount juries can award in lawsuits against hospitals or doctors. When the Garcias’ baby, Princess, was born Aug. 15, 2002, she was severely bruised with a broken spine and not able to breathe on her own, though she appeared healthy and had moved her head and limbs in sonograms. Princess, now 3 years old, still breathes with a ventilator and is paralyzed from the chest down. During her birth, Princess’s shoulder became lodged under her mother’s pubic bone, preventing the baby from traveling through the birth canal. According to the Garcia’s attorney, Mary Wilson, to dislodge the baby and expedite her delivery, the nurses applied "fundal pressure," pushing on the mother’s stomach just below the ribs. Fundal pressure is not allowed at many hospitals because it can cause injuries to the mother and the baby. In depositions and testimony the jury saw during the three-week trial, the nurses who delivered Princess denied employing the method. Wilson told the jury that the hospital nurses also failed to assess insulin-dependent diabetic Aurora Garcia as a high-risk pregnancy and did not follow the hospital’s policies in the delivery. The hospital’s attorney John Raley of the Houston Cooper & Scully law firm had argued that the baby girl’s injuries may have been caused by congenital defects or medical attention given to the baby after she left Rio Grande Regional. He could not be reached for comment after the trial. The doctor who delivered Princess at the hospital and testified during the trial defends the nurses’ actions. Dr. Alejandro A. Tey, who was voluntarily dismissed from the case, said that the verdict hurts the region’s overall health system, according to a written statement. "The nurses acted appropriately and did everything they were ordered to do. In fact, I told the jury that not only did the nurses act appropriately, but were heroic in helping save this baby’s life and in charge of the situation," he stated. "No nurse used any inappropriate techniques." Nationally recognized for patient safety, thousands of babies have been delivered in the hospital in the past 23 years, the release stated. Rio Grande Regional CEO Stephen K. Jones said in the statement that the hospital plans to appeal the verdict and is confident it will be reversed. "The facts clearly showed that our nurses acted responsibly and within the nationally recognized standard of care during this medical emergency," he stated. "We are proud of our nurses and the physicians who practice here at the hospital." The jury’s two-part verdict showed they blamed the hospital for Princess’s injuries. After the attorneys finished presenting their evidence Tuesday, the jury took several hours to decide that the hospital acted negligently and caused Princess’s injuries and that the harm to Princess resulted from malice attributed to the hospital. They awarded the family $25.5 million to compensate for the baby girl’s suffering. Because the jury answered yes to the second question, jurors returned Wednesday to consider punitive damages and decided the hospital should pay $2.8 million in punishment. "Justice was done for my daughter. That’s everything I wanted," Aurora Garcia said. "Now we won’t have to worry about her needs. We will have the money to get surgeries to give her hope so she can continue living." The little girl requires around-the-clock care, including two nurses who look after her in eight-hour shifts daily. In addition to her medicine and equipment costs, the family, which lives in a modest trailer home, pays nearly $600 a month in electricity bills because of Princess Garcia’s ventilator and humidifier. Princess’s parents said they planned to buy a vehicle equipped to transport their daughter so that she can go to her three older brothers’ baseball games and other family outings.

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